Ave Maria
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Ave Maria

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Shouldn’t There Be a Viable Catholic Political Party in the Philippines?

The situation gets so bad that, from time to time, bishops, priests, and consecrated religious feel compelled to get involved

Pope Francis with Filipino welcomers at the Vatican
Pope Francis with Filipino Nuns at The Vatican Photo by Barbara Provenzano Unsplash

In a country that prides itself in being the only Christian or Catholic nation in Asia, it should not only be understandable but expected that there is a distinct Catholic political party that plays a major role in the governance of the country.

The fact that there is none could be a clear indicator that the Catholic Church is failing to truly evangelize the faithful.

It is Church teaching that the faithful should actively take part in matters of governance of the nation in order to ensure a God-fearing, just, law-abiding, peaceful and progressive society. Yet, the biggest social ills reign unchecked in Philippine society.

The political parties in power from, one administration to the next, are made up of men and women who call themselves Catholics. But they seem unable, or unwilling, to muster the policies that address such ills and see to their implementation effectively and consistently. Corruption is rife and so are violence and injustice. Almost two-thirds of the population remain poor, hungry, homeless, and jobless.

The situation gets so bad that, from time to time, bishops, priests, and consecrated religious feel compelled to get involved. They issue public statements and take part or lead in public demonstrations to call out government for inaction or outright abuse of its powers. When they do so, the powers-that-be in government accuse these clerics and religious of political over-reach and remind them of the sacrosanct separation of church and state in a democratic republic.

Why do the bishops and priests have to come out and engage in political activities in the first place? Where are the enlightened faithful? Is there a political party that can be trusted to speak out and act for the application of Church teaching to secular situations in society that need fixing?

According to official statistics, about 80% of close to 110 million Filipino people consider themselves Catholic. The religious minority consists of the more generic Christian sectarians, Muslims, and adherents of Buddhism, Hinduism, and the like.

But none of the major political parties in the country have been, or are, distinctly Catholic in orientation, platform, and practice.

As far as I can remember, the closest that any political party ever came to this concept at least in name was the former National Union of Christian Democrats. It was imported from the Christian Democratic parties in Europe, which were not necessarily Catholic in doctrinal orientation.

There was also a short-lived Bago (New) political party, whose name implied total reformation and renewal of political philosophy and practices in the Philippines. It was controlled by a Catholic charismatic community which ensured that its party platform hewed to orthodox Catholic teaching. It also showed marked preference for members of the community to run as candidates. It dared to field candidates in one national election. Its ticket included nominees for president, vice-president, several senators, a sprinkling of congressional representatives and a handful of candidates for random local government units. Not a single candidate won. The party practically fizzled out after that.

So, Catholics who dabble in politics are left with no choice but to become members of anyone of a hodge-podge of political parties that are primarily secular in nature and are hardly distinct from one another, except in name and the personality of the dominant leader at any given time.

In the early years of the Philippine republic, there was a semblance of a two-party system similar to that of the United States. Where the US had the Republic and Democratic parties, the Philippines had its Liberal and Nacionalista parties. Their political platforms and culture were supposed to be distinct from one another. The voters could have a clear choice of either party.

Serious candidates for major elective positions had to become members first of either of these two major parties. They also had to go through some kind of internship and residency requirements, beginning with lower-level positions and gradually moving up to higher levels in subsequent election years.

All that changed when former president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, abolished the constitution, and installed himself as president practically for life. To legitimize this arrangement, he wrote a new constitution which established a parliament instead of a two-chamber elective legislature, and a government-controlled political party called the Kapisanan ng Bagong Lipunan (The New Society Party). This party provided the semblance of elections to legitimize the selection of Marcos loyalists for choice government positions.

When Marcos was deposed in 1986 after almost two decades in power, a new constitution was formulated in 1987. It restored democratic practice in government and, with it, the emergence of new political parties. It marked the return to the political culture of the early 1990s, but with an added difference. This time, it allowed a party-list system purportedly to ensure representation in Congress of the marginalized sectors in society but has, instead, been hijacked by entrenched political dynasties to perpetuate family members in political power.

It is widely accepted that the political party system in the Philippines is seriously flawed and needs urgent fixing. When the only distinction between one party from another comes from the changing personalities of leaders in the parties, one cannot expect too much depth in ideology or principle, nor consistency in their application.

When ambitious politicians change parties with every election, depending on which ones can provide funds to get them elected, it should not surprise anyone that their main concern in public office is self-serving programs and partisan accommodation of reciprocal interests; certainly not the welfare or benefit of the public.

The situation seems to be a perfect case study for the Catholic Church. How do you entice and motivate the faithful to step forward and make themselves available for public service? How do you organize them into a purposeful group that can mirror official church teaching in the policies they will propose and the regulations that they will implement? How can they effectively compete in the free marketplace of political ideas and strategies with a fair chance of winning?

Catholics at mass
Photo by Josh Applegate Unsplash

The situation begs the question: Isn’t there a need for a Catholic political party that has enough muscle to win as a distinct group in the wild and wooly environment of Philippine politics?

Ave Maria!

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Curajimmy

Curajimmy

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A Rotarian, an educator, a speaker and a business consultant. Member, Filii Sancti Dominici (FILII).